Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral composed of long, fibrous crystals. Because of its durability and resistance to chemicals and heat, asbestos was extensively used in numerous industries up until the 1970s.
However, asbestos fibers can be easily swallowed or inhaled, becoming trapped in the lungs, heart, or abdomen. Most fibers are expelled, but some can remain, increasing the chance of developing mesothelioma and other breathing disorders. Asbestos exposure has also been linked to asbestosis and lung cancer. Pleural effusions (fluid buildup in the space surrounding the lungs) and pleural plaques (noncancerous masses along the lungs) are common results as well.
Common Asbestos Products
As a natural mineral that can stand up to heat and corrosion, asbestos was very popular throughout history and was used in various products. Greeks and Romans wove asbestos fibers into clothes and napkins, and the mineral has been mined in North American since the late 1800s. Most recently, the material has been used in the military and in the railroad and manufacturing industries.
As such, asbestos was used to make wall and ceiling panels, insulation products, roofing materials, tar paper, textile garments, valves, turbines, paint, and packing materials. The automotive industry has used asbestos in brakes, pads and brake linings; gaskets; heat seals; and clutches. In construction, asbestos was used in building materials, cement, floor tiles, and roofing shingles. This material could also be found in everyday products such as fertilizers, baby powder, thermal paper products, mittens, and fake snow.
Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
The risk of developing asbestos-related diseases is higher for people who have been exposed to high concentrations of the substance in the workplace, particularly during the creation of such products. Construction workers, heating and ventilation engineers, gas fitters, painters, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, chemical plant workers, and sailors have all likely been exposed.
Upon discovering the harmful effects of working with asbestos, governments in most countries have banned the use of the product. Legislation that limited asbestos exposure was introduced in the United States in 1971, especially after the government realized that many companies working with asbestos knew about its dangers. Despite its ban, asbestos still exists in many factories, schools, and office buildings that were built before this point.
Asbestos Exposure and Malignant Mesothelioma
Asbestos exposure is the main cause of malignant mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that affects 2,500 to 3,000 people in the United States annually. Patients with this condition usually experience chest pain, persistent cough, shortness of breath, tightening in the throat, fluid buildup in the lungs, weight loss, anemia, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Because these symptoms are similar to those seen in more common conditions, mesothelioma usually goes undiagnosed until its later stages, when it is more difficult to treat.
Have you been exposed to asbestos? Have you been diagnosed with mesothelioma? We might be able to help you get compensation from former employers to help you pay for treatment. To find out more about asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, complete the form on this page.